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Choking on the Road: Don’t Let Your Kids Eat While You Are Driving

eating and driving kids choking

Unfortunately, driving and (kids) eating just don’t mix. It’s not worth the risk of choking.

As a CPS technician, I can’t tell you how many times a parent apologized to me for their car being messy, sticky and crumb covered. I have always said there is a simple solution to that, don’t let your kids eat in the car.

choking on the road, eating and driving

Why it’s not a good idea

It’s not just about the crumbs. I went on to explain further that it also would be safer because what happens if your child starts choking in the car while you are driving. It puts you in a very dangerous situation. If your child is choking how calmly do you think you can safely yet quickly pull over?

According to the New York Department of Health, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death in children under the age of 5. Motor vehicle accidents are the primary cause of accidental death in children ages one to 14. It may be smart to not combine the two possibilities.

“I always recommend that my families have their children eat while sitting, and avoid giving toddlers food while in the car,” says Dr. Lisa Dana.

Often times parents wouldn’t even realize children are choking unless they are looking at them as kids typically can’t make any noise to alert you that they’re choking.

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What to do instead

I know this seems extremely inconvenient, especially with toddlers who can get extremely loud when they are unhappy or hungry or both, which also can pose a challenge to driving safely. Perhaps try liquids; sippy cups and food pouches are great for driving.

The most common culprits for children choking, according to the data, was

  • hard candy (16 percent of the cases),
  • followed by other types of candy (13 percent),
  • meat (other than hot dogs, more on that below) (12 percent),
  • bones (12 percent),
  • and fruits and vegetables (10 percent).

Interestingly, the researchers found that while seeds, nuts and shells only accounted for 7 percent of the nonfatal cases, and hot dogs only 3 percent, they were more likely than other foods to require hospital admission.

Keep all the passengers safer by not allowing young children to eat in the car. And you’ll get the bonus of keeping your car cleaner longer.

Steps that Could Save Your Child’s Life if Choking

DON’T WASTE A MOMENT: If the object doesn’t come out when they cough, act immediately. Look to see if there is an object, but take it out only if you think you can reach it without pushing it further down the throat.

FROM BIRTH TO ONE YEAR OLD: Lay the baby face-down, with their head lower than their body. Give five firm blows to the back between the shoulder blades with the flat of your hand. If the airway is still blocked, turn them over on your arm, with the head still low. Using two fingers in the middle of the chest, push down a third of the depth of the chest. Check the mouth after each push and remove any obvious obstruction. After three cycles of back blows followed by chest thrusts, dial 911 and continue cycles. Never do an abdominal thrust.

FOR CHILDREN AGED ONE TO PUBERTY: Place the child over your knee and give five back blows. If this doesn’t work, give up to five abdominal thrusts. Stand behind them and place a fist between the navel and the bottom of the breastbone and pull inwards and upwards. If the obstruction does not clear after three cycles of back blows and abdominal thrusts, dial 911 for an ambulance and continue the cycles until help arrives.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2021 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

This post was originally published November 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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  1. At what age is it okay to start to give a child liquids in their carseat? We have a road trip coming up and wondering if my little one is old enough yet.

    1. I think that’s going to depend in every family. Liquids are usually OK in the car and don’t pose a choking hazard. Can they hold the cup themselves? What are you putting in it? Can it spill? If it does spill will it be a sticky, stinky mess? Those are all questions only the parent can answer.

    1. From Summit Medical: “Choking is the coughing spasm and sputtering that happen when liquids or solids get into the windpipe. A child’s cough reflex will clear the windpipe of liquid within 10 to 30 seconds. Complete blockage occurs when solid food (for example, a piece of hot dog) or a foreign object (such as a small toy) gets stuck. (It can also occur with severe croup.) If this happens a child is unable to breathe, cry, or speak. The child will be in a state of panic and, if the obstruction isn’t removed in 1 or 2 minutes, the child will pass out.”

  2. Is there a sure and fast rule about having the child in the car seat buckled or unbuckled in the car pulled over and eating? This has been a debate in a mother’s group I am in and would like to here from a Car seat Tech.

    1. Most state laws indicate children “being transported” need to be properly restrained. I’ve never seen and hard and fast rule/law about whether a child needs to be buckled when a car is pulled over. We would suggest that you keep your child properly buckled even if you are parked on the side of the road for a child to eat as a car could still crash into your car while you are parked. We would recommend that you not park on the side of the road with your child rather pull off entirely to a rest area or parking lot if you need to stop to allow your child to eat.

  3. I am fostering 2 girls age 8 and 12 through DCF. I drive the girls to visitation with their parents. The visits are between the hours of 4 and 6 pm Monday, Tuesday and Friday. A Social Worker drives them home. DCF has decided I need to feed the children before visitations. 1 child gets out of school at 3 pm the younger one I pull from school for visits at 3:30 pm. It takes a 1/2 hour to go from school to the DCF office for the visit. DCF has informed me to make them snacks to eat in the car. 1st off the last meal the children had was at lunch in school at around 12 12:30 pm. 2nd off I don’t feel a snack is healthy till they get home at 6:45 or 7 pm. Now the big concern is I don’t think it is safe to drive while they are woofing down food to see their parent. and I am very concerned about a chocking incident. 3rd Yes I don’t want the mess in my car.

    1. Hi Christine, With an 8 and 12 year old, the risk of choking would certainly be less than with a 3 year old toddler. Would you have time to take a 5-minute healthy snack break before you get back in the car when you pick up from the second school? Could you pack healthy and clean-to-eat foods (ie. apple slices and a cheese string or fruit bar and beef jerky) for a snack in the car and be sure to have water to drink too?

  4. Yes, that is what I will be doing. I do need to add that the 8-year-old has a chronic cough.
    She will go into a coughing spasm and vomit into her month. I have brought her to the doctor numerous times even had chest Xrays and blood work.
    I also don’t feel that children should go with no dinner or substantial food from noon on. The visit tonight is from 4 pm to 7 pm the children will not get home till 7:30 or later. My household eats dinner at 5:30 pm or 6 pm.
    Thank you for your reply.

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